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Summary and book reviews of The Mark Inside by Amy Reading

The Mark Inside

A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con

by Amy Reading

The Mark Inside
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2013, 304 pages

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Book Summary

Amy Reading's fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet's wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.

In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did - he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.

Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men who had conned him. Armed with a revolver and a suitcase full of disguises, Norfleet crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado, posing as a country hick and allowing himself to be ensnared by confidence men again and again to gather evidence on his enemies. Within four years, Frank Norfleet had become nationally famous for his quest to out-con the con men.

Through Norfleet's ingenious reverse-swindle, Amy Reading reveals the mechanics behind the scenes of the big con - a piece of performance art targeted to the most vulnerable points of human nature. Reading shows how the big con has been woven throughout U.S. history. From the colonies to the railroads and the Chicago Board of Trade, America has always been a speculative enterprise, and bunco men and bankers alike have always understood that the common man was perfectly willing to engage in minor fraud to get a piece of the expanding stock market - a trait that made him infinitely gullible.

Amy Reading's fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet's wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.

CHAPTER ONE
Confidence

J. Frank Norfleet was feeling confident as he strode into the St. George Hotel in Dallas. He'd just arrived from Dublin, Texas, where he'd sold a carload of mules at an admirable profit. He was a prosperous fifty-four-year-old rancher from the Texas Panhandle, a third-generation pioneer who had worked his whole life to turn the prairie, now swept clean of Indians and buffalo, into a profitable ground for agriculture and livestock. Since he was a teenager, he'd herded sheep and hogs, driven cattle across the open range, and fenced thousands of acres of pastureland. He'd made foreman on the Spade Ranch in Hale County at a young age and saved his modest wages until, when he was forty-nine, he was finally able to afford his own land. He purchased about 8,000 acres near the Spade Ranch and continued to raise livestock in small numbers, investing the profits in adjacent land until his ranch had grown to 20,000 acres. On this November day in 1919, he was in Dallas for ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

USA Today

An engaging book for anybody who wants to better understand misconduct in the realm of finance—and the consequences of such misconduct for everybody involved.

Publishers Weekly

This narrative of vigilante justice flows like fiction, as con artistry is illuminated throughout, with resonance in today's world of high-tech con artistry.

Kirkus Reviews

[T]he book is fascinating because Norfleet's quest seems both quixotic and inspiring.

Author Blurb David Mamet, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Glengarry Glen Ross and House of Games
Most scholarship reads like a trip to the dentist. The Mark Inside reads like a trip to the track.

Author Blurb Karen Abbott, New York Times best-selling author of American Rose and Sin in the Second City
With pitch-perfect storytelling and stylish prose, Amy Reading weaves a gripping tale of a grand swindle and even grander act of revenge, a solo manhunt throughout North America that's as hilarious as it is compelling. Rarely has history been this fun, fast-paced, and fulfilling. The Mark Inside is a book you won't put down and a story you'll never forget.

Author Blurb Howard Blum, best-selling author of The Floor of Heaven and American Lightning
Part page-turning crime drama, part juicy tale of vengeance and obsession, part informative social history, and part intriguing epistemological rumination about literary truth, Amy Reading's The Mark Inside is always great fun. From the first page Ms. Reading hooks the reader as shrewdly as any of the bunco men she writes about - only she makes good on this enticement, delivering narrative gold.

Author Blurb Ann Fabian, author of Card Sharps and Bucket Shops
An astonishing story of one victim's determined quest to bring down a ring of swindling confidence men. We have rigged fights, fake stock exchanges, gun battles, jailbreaks, a hardy Texan, an honest dentist and a righteous DA. Here's early twentieth-century capitalism - a great humbug run by the ghost of a grinning P.T. Barnum.

Author Blurb Scott A. Sandage, author of Born Losers
It's tempting to say that The Mark Inside reads like a historical novel, but really it's more like a great heist film. Amy Reading entertains while explaining why all Americans - from Ben Franklin to Bernie Madoff - are part trickster and part sucker.

Reader Reviews

Lisa E. (Cincinnati, OH)

Fun and Informative
What a fascinating book! I have led a rather sheltered life here in Ohio, and I had no idea "confidence" men would spend such time and effort to pull off a scam--and the psychology and insight that go into the whole thing!

Maggie P. (Mount Airy, MD)

Buckle up!
I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much. I found myself laughing at the exploits of Frank Norfleet. While Amy Reading leaves you wondering how much is factual how much is the fanciful wishing of Norfleet, I still found myself having...   Read More

Jeffrey L. (Washington, DC)

The Inside Mark Amy Reading
The subtitle says it all; A Perfect Swindle, A Cunning Revenge and a Small History of the Big Con. The book intermingles education and drama against a suspenseful and emotional, period backdrop. Imagine an historically accurate, "The Sting" ...   Read More

Mark's Reviews

A Great Book on a Fascinating Topic!!!
For those of us who saw the iconic movie "The Sting" when it first came out, that movie provided the romance and intrigue of "The Big Con." After seeing the movie, you asked yourself "who were these people?, what really ...   Read More

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